Open Society Foundations to Stay in Hungary Despite Crackdown Threat

The Open Society Foundations will continue to operate in Hungary despite a pledge by that country's ruling party to crack down on the nongovernmental organizations supported by OSF after U.S. president-elect Donald J. Trump takes office, Bloomberg News reports.

Founded by Hungarian-born financier George Soros, OSF supports more than sixty NGOs in Hungary, where it has worked since 1984, and has spent more than $1.6 billion on democratic development in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. In 1989, Viktor Orban, then a liberal anti-Communist student leader, received a Soros scholarship to study at Oxford University; he served as prime minister of Hungary from 1998 to 2002, returning to power in 2010. Since 2014, however, Orban has vowed to end liberal democracy in Hungary and ignored criticism of his efforts to build a self-described "illiberal state" modeled on authoritarian regimes such as Russia, China, and Turkey. In the past, Orban has said civil society groups financed from abroad were surrogates for "paid political activists." According to the Hungarian parliament's legislative agenda, lawmakers will begin debating a bill this year to allow authorities to audit NGO executives.

Earlier this week, Szilard Nemeth, a vice president of Orban's ruling Fidesz party, said Hungary would use "all the tools at its disposal" to "sweep out" NGOs funded by Soros, which "serve global capitalists and back political correctness over national governments." Because of Trump's election, "I feel that there is an opportunity for this, internationally," Nemeth reportedly told state news service MTI, later naming three NGOs among those to be targeted — the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, Transparency International, and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.

"The Open Society Foundations will continue to work in Hungary despite government opposition to our mission of fairer, accountable societies," OSF president Christopher Stone told Bloomberg News in an e-mail. "In Hungary and around the world we are more focused than ever on working with local groups to strengthen democratic practice, rights, and justice."

Orban was the first European leader to publicly back Trump's campaign, which ran an ad accusing Soros — along with Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein — of being part of "a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth, and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities." In Russia, the foundation was banned after being put on a list of "undesirable" foreign institutions by the government of Vladimir Putin.

"First, the [Hungarian] government weakened democratic institutions like the Constitutional Court and the office of the Ombudsman," Hungarian Helsinki Committee co-chair Andras Kadar told the BBC. "Now they're declaring war on those watchdog NGOs which have the capacity to investigate and expose the abuse of power."

Zoltan Simon. "Soros Group to Stay in Hungary Amid Trump-Inspired Crackdown." Bloomberg News 01/11/2017. Nick Thorpe. "Hungarian Attack on George Soros Prompts NGO Anger." BBC 01/12/2017. "Hungary Plans to Crackdown on All Soros-Funded NGOs." Bloomberg News 01/10/2017.